With the Coronavirus closing schools and colleges across the United States, it can be understandable for students and their families to feel anxious, which is why I want to take some time to talk about what's going on for current seniors who are receiving their admissions decisions over the next few weeks along with the juniors and sophomores who face a bit more uncertainty on how to proceed in the months ahead.

First, let's talk about high school seniors. This is terrible timing. I'm sorry you guys are going through this. Not only will this potentially affect your senior activities like prom and senior trips as well as other traditions, but this may also affect your decision on where and how far you want to venture for college. While many colleges have canceled Accepted Student Days and onsite campus visits, colleges are working hard to make themselves available online via 1-on-1 Zoom calls, virtual events, and tours.

You may also be worried about trying to make your decision by May 1st which has traditionally been College Decision Day. How can you make a decision when you haven't had a chance to visit the school? Admissions hears you and more and more are updating their Decision Date to be June 1st with the hopes that our country will be running again by then. To check out the full list as it is being updated, click here.

Next, let's talk about the juniors as there may be quite a few thoughts on your mind. For some of you, the SATs or ACTs were canceled this past weekend. Then you found out that CollegeBoard just canceled the makeup test for the SAT for later this month as well as the April test. The ACT just postponed its April test to be in June. Then there's the question of AP exams and subject tests. I get it...there's a lot of moving pieces.

First, take this time to prep for your later test. You have been granted more time to study for them. Many educational resources are free for these next few weeks and months, including the mini-workshops I will be giving for free on my Parents Passionate about College Admissions Facebook page. Take advantage of them.

There will be tests in June, August, and September, so you have more opportunities ahead of you. Testing companies are going to try to do the right thing.

Next, know that admissions and educators are trying to also do the right thing and some have already announced that they will be going test-optional for the upcoming admissions season. You can also help reduce your stress by balancing your list with some test-optional schools. You can find the list here.

Now, how about all this 'free' time you guys have now? First, spend it taking care of your health and that of your families. Most high school students are overworked and sleep-deprived. Catch up on sleep first. Your body will thank you. It will also help you stay healthy.

Next, take some time to think about all the things you've wanted to do but haven't had a chance to but can still do virtually. Here's a few to get you started.

1) Help your community. While it is encouraged to stay at home to flatten the curve and only run out for the necessities, think about how you can help your local community. Do you have elderly or immune-compromised neighbors? Can you help do their grocery shopping for them? Love kids and are not sick? Perhaps you can offer free childcare for people who have to work, like doctors and nurses or those that need to be working at grocery stores and pharmacies.

2) Explore your intellectual interests. Here are 450 free Ivy League courses, plus you can also check out Coursera for free courses.

3) Spend some time indulging in your personal interests. From listening to free opera from the Met to learning how to draw, follow your heart and see where it leads. Perhaps you'll find a new passion, like cooking.

4) Work on the college admissions process through taking the time to research your college list and major more. Spend more time building relationships with your teachers, counselors, and colleges virtually. Get a head start on your personal statement. The prompts are out for Common App.

5) Connect. Connect with your loved ones. With Facetime and the internet, being physically separated doesn't mean you can't grow closer with the ones in your home or ones that are not nearby.

What are you planning to do? Wishing everyone good health!

#coronavirus #collegeadmissions #SAT #ACT

As the college admissions scandal has made clear over the past week, the anxiety, stress, and competition of college admissions can make families go to extreme measures to help their children improve (or in the case of the scandal “guarantee”) their chance of being accepted by their ideal school.

Through my work with both pro-bono with families of limited means and also with “privileged” clients, these are strategies I utilize for all of them to help them maximize their chances at their top choices — and it doesn’t cost thousands of dollars or require breaking the law. If you have a teen in high school, here are four strategies you can use to help them gain an edge in admissions beyond just completing the application.

Invest Time in Building Genuine Relationships

As someone once said, “love can’t be bought.” While it would seem that an acceptance can be bought from admissions in this scandal, it is not only rare but also clearly unethical and illegal.

Students who want to gain an ethical edge on their application can do so by investing the time and effort to create genuine relationships with admissions representatives. This is especially important for colleges and universities that measure the level of an applicant’s interest during the admissions.

A few ways to do this are: While visiting a school in person for an information session and campus tour is an ideal way to do this, students don’t need to spend that type of money to build a connection. Students can take advantage of when admissions representatives are in the area for college fairs and local high school visits or simply by sending them a well-written note.

Students I have worked with who do this not only grow in their communication skills but have also even gained acceptance to their “stretch” schools. One of my students felt like they wouldn’t be able to get into their dream school because she had C’s and D’s on their transcript. She connected with her regional admissions representative and by the time he visited her school, he called her out by name!

Remember, money is a poor substitute for genuine connections that don’t cost anything to build.

Don’t Obsess Over the Perfect Resume

Decades ago, the buzzword for what a perfect resume for college would look like was “well-rounded.” The truth is colleges don’t need well-rounded or “jack of all trade” students.

They want students that are talented and passionate in a few key areas — and most importantly, they don’t care which ones. As I told a parent who was adamant about having their child join a sport for their resume, “he doesn’t have to join a sport. Let him spend time doing what he enjoys.”

For example, a student of mine that had an interest in computer science would volunteer as a teacher’s assistant for a local robotics class and participate in hackathons on the weekend, in addition to being part of his high school’s computer science club.

As admissions have shared numerous times, there isn’t a formula for a perfect resume or admissions profile. So, stop obsessing about having everything on the resume, spend your time on what you care about — academically and personally — and be able to explain your choices. It’s easier to speak to your interests and where you spend your time if it comes from the heart.

Make Admissions’ Job Easier for Them

When I first started working after college, I received some words of wisdom that I share with my students today, “your job is to make your boss look good and you do that through making their job easier for them.”

Similarly, in admissions, there will be different readers who will be fighting for their favorite candidates, including you! The one question that they are all trying to answer is, “is this student a good fit for my institution?” Students can help themselves stand out by customizing their application, especially their responses to supplemental essay questions by focusing on how pieces of their admissions profile align well with the college’s mission, values or offerings. Admissions is trying to picture what type of impact you’ll have on their community if admitted. By doing your research and customizing your application to match up with the school, you’re making their job easier of connecting the dots to understand how you’re a great match for their school, but its really important that the impact you hope to have is genuine.

Get the Scores You Need to Qualify and Move On

While standardized test scores can play a significant role in merit scholarships, their role in admissions has diminished over the years as evidenced by the increasing amount of colleges that choose to go test-optional. Colleges recognize that there isn’t a strong correlation between standardized test scores and success at their institution. Rather, its use in the admissions practice for many schools, especially those who view students holistically is to qualify the student. Overall, it’s not the factor that helps the student get accepted to the school in the end.

So, work to get the scores you need to qualify for the school and then focus your time on the factors that actually might get you accepted at the school, like extracurricular activities you are genuinely interested in, essays, and experiences that help you grow as an individual.

I want to share my motto from when I was applying for college as a first-generation college student because it decreased my anxiety and stress and put the power where it belonged — with me. “This is me. Take it or leave it.” While it certainly is bold and even a little cocky, the point is you should go to a school that values and wants you too, because they are going to give you the opportunities you deserve — and have rightfully earned.

Anna Ren is the founder of Elite Advantage Prep College Admissions Consultingand the co-host of the top 10 iTunes podcast on college admissions, College Admissions with Mark and Anna.

The recent national college admissions scandal has placed intense scrutiny on college admissions consultants and families that come from “privileged” backgrounds. As an independent educational consultant, parent, and first-generation college student from a low-income background, I’ve had the opportunity to gain perspectives from different angles.

Thought #1: William Singer was a Bernie Madoff, not an educational consultant

The “college consultant” in question was no more an educational consultant than Bernie Madoff was a financial advisor. They are both scam artists who preyed on others’ aspirations and desperation. What’s worse is we are still reading about “educational consultants” who are being questioned as experts in the media when their own practices are bordering on unethical with their students.

Ethical educational consultants guide students to figure out if college is right for them, help them identify and demonstrate their best qualities, and match them with schools that are not only a fit for them academically and personally, but also financially. Let’s not crucify the work that is really being done, because of some really shameful individuals.

Thought #2: College Donations are a Necessary Evil for Better or Worse

One of my clients told me, “My first college consultant encouraged my parents to make a donation to the school to help me get in. My parents and I were totally against this and refused to do it. I wanted to get in on my own.”

Conversations like this rock my world, because it's hard to believe that someone else in my industry would recommend something like that. But the truth is, it's not illegal--just borderline unethical.

On the flip side, I have learned through my work that students who donate or identify as “full-pay” on their applications do have a slight edge. Colleges need a “full-pay” student to balance out a “scholarship” student. College admissions aren’t proud of this and often remind educational consultants to encourage our “need” students to apply early to not only increase their chance of receiving money but also for admissions. At the same time, I will admit, my “privileged” clients do leverage this by identifying themselves as “not applying for financial aid” to increase their chances of being accepted.

This is going to be an unpopular opinion, but as the first student in my family to go to college, whose parents were a cook and nanny, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college in the first place without other people’s generous donations. Donations to the college or university are necessary--just not to someone’s individual pocket, as in the case of the college admissions scandal.

Donations are crucial because as much as I feel like the middle class gets the short end of the stick in all of this, students that come from low-income, less-educated backgrounds see the most benefit from attending elite colleges and universities. Having experienced it first-hand and personally met my donors, I know I would not have had the opportunities I had inside and outside of the classroom had I not attended an elite university, such as interning with a Fortune 100 company or studying abroad.

Thought #3: Colleges are Not As Unethical as the Scandal is Making them out to be

Having worked both in an athletic office and having helped student athletes apply for elite colleges and universities, I can tell you that what is being publicized does not happen at most schools. While working with a student who was being recruited for an athletic team at a top 10 university, I appreciated how the coach would say that “the review went smoothly with admissions” or how it was “likely” they would be admitted, but that it was never guaranteed, because the truth is, the decision isn’t up to the coach. It’s up to admissions.

From placing prospective students whose questionnaires indicated that their scores did not meet the threshold in a no-follow-up pile to hearing my classmate’s story of receiving a call from the admissions office about how they wouldn’t be able to accept his younger sibling despite his generous donations, I’ve personally witnessed universities stand their ground when it comes to academic expectations in the admissions process.

Thought #4: There’s Still an Army of Us Fighting the Good Fight in College Admissions

While it is not being publicized in the media right now, college admissions, high school counselors, and independent educational consultants are trying to work together to fight the good fight of increasing access and opportunities for students. When I visited Yale last summer, they talked about the students who came from the rural mid-west who were the first in their family of farmers to attend college. Many elite colleges shared how 25% of the students accepted were first-generation students.

While there is a small percentage of independent educational consultants who charge an obscene amount of money for their services, the majority of us charge a fraction of what is being publicized and also take on pro-bono clients, because we also want to level the playing field for those who are most disadvantaged.

Truth is, admissions may never be “fair.” However, there is a great deal of work being done to try to level the playing field...and sometimes it requires actions that can be seen as “unfair.” What we can do as parents though is help empower our teens throughout the process and help give them the best chance they can at a system whose improvements are still in progress.

Anna Ren is an independent college admissions consultant and the founder of Elite Advantage Prep. She is also co-host of the top 10 iTunes podcast on college admissions, College Admissions with Mark and Anna.

#collegeadmissionsscandal #collegeadmissions

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